Surging, hopeful, joyful doubt

A couple of weeks ago, I posted on the subject of doubt in the Christian life. Subsequently I came across a helpful passage in a lecture by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh, the late head of the Russian Orthodox Patriarchal Church in Great Britain and Ireland, from his book God and Man.

In the lecture, entitled Doubt and the Christian Life, Metropolitan Anthony (himself a scientist by training) contrasts the scientist, for whom “doubt is a systematic weapon”, a spur to further and more detailed research, with the believer, for whom a “wrong attitude to doubt” can be “a moment of anguish” (p.50).

A few pages later (p.57) he expands on this:

If we think of a scientist and a believer, then we will see that the scientist’s doubt is systematic, it is surging, it is hopeful, it is joyful, it is destructive of what he has done himself because he believes in the reality that is beyond and not in the model he has constructed.

This is then a model for how we should engage with doubt in the Christian life:

This we must learn as believers for our spiritual life both in the highest forms of theology and in the small simple concrete experience of being a Christian.

Whenever we are confronted with a crossroads, whenever we are in doubt, whenever our mind sees two alternatives, instead of saying, “Oh God, make me blind, Oh God help me not to see, Oh God give me loyalty to what I know now to be untrue”, we should say “God is casting a ray of light which is a ray of reality on something I have outgrown – the smallness of my original vision. I have come to a point when I can see more and deeper, thanks be to God.”

That is not perplexity, it is not bewilderment, it is not the anguished doubt of the believer who hides his head and hopes that he will be able to revert to the age of 8.

I love that line about “Oh God, give me loyalty to what I know now to be untrue”. How easy it can be to mistake cognitive dissonance for faith!

The difference between destructive, anguished doubt and the creative, joyful doubt commended by Metropolitan Anthony is that the latter is concerned with doubting our models about God rather than doubting the reality of God himself. This type of doubt never has the last word, as Metropolitan Anthony continues:

This is important because unless you are prepared to see reality and your own thoughts and the thoughts of others with keen interest, with courage, but with the certainty that the last word is not doubt, not perplexity and not bewilderment, but that it is discovery, then you are wasting your time.

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5 Responses to Surging, hopeful, joyful doubt

  1. How easy it can be to mistake cognitive dissonance for faith!

    True. There’s a Christian song I keep hearing with the refrain: “maybe we’d see better by closing our eyes.” Whenever I hear it, I think: not while driving or operating heavy machinery, please.

    Thanks for an encouraging post about doubt, faith and method.

  2. A more accurate quote:

    “Help me believe / ‘Cause I don’t want to miss any miracles / Maybe I’d see much better by closing my eyes / And I would shed this grownup skin I’m in to touch an angel’s wing / And I would be free / Help me believe”… – This Mystery, by Nichole Norderman.


  3. John H says:

    Meh, meh and double meh.

    Someone needs to learn the difference between Christianity and Gnosticism.

    Reminds me of the execrable “From a Distance”. Even when I was an atheist, I knew that the song’s basic message – “The world looks completely fine from a distance, and hey, that’s where God’s watching us from!” – was wildly missing the point.

  4. Pingback: Confessing Evangelical » Blog Archive » The puzzling mystery of unbelief

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